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Film Descriptions

The Films of Park Chan-wook | New Korean Cinema

The Films of Park Chan-wook

Friday, March 1, 7 pm, F|S
Saturday, March 2, 7 pm, F|S (in person: Park Chan-wook)
The Korean Film Festival kicks off with a bang as Park Chan-wook presents the area premiere of Stoker, his first American production. This haunting mystery was coproduced by Ridley and Tony Scott, written by Prison Break’s Wentworth Miller, and stars Mia Wasikowska, Dermot Mulroney, and Nicole Kidman. After India’s (Wasikowska) father dies in an auto accident, her uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode), who she never knew existed, comes to live with her emotionally unstable mother (Kidman). Soon after Charlie’s arrival, India comes to suspect this mysterious, charming man has ulterior motives—but instead of feeling outrage or horror, the friendless girl becomes increasingly infatuated with him. (Dir.: Park Chan-wook, United States, 2013, 99 min., English)

JSA: Joint Security Area 공동경비구역 JSA
Sunday, March 3, 1 pm, F|S
Thursday, April 4, 7 pm, AFI
One of the first films to expose international audiences to what became known as the Korean New Wave, JSA: Joint Security Area exemplifies Park Chan-wook’s ability to balance thrills with intellectual and emotional heft. Structured as a classic whodunit, it begins with a UN investigator looking into the killing of two North Korean soldiers by a South Korean soldier. Flashbacks reveal a surprising truth: the soldiers had developed a secret cross-border friendship. JSA’s power—brought home in its brilliant final image—derives from both its suspenseful narrative and its tragic depiction of young men whose bonds are destroyed by military indoctrination. (Dir.: Park Chan-wook, Korea, 2000, 110 min., Korean with English subtitles)

Oldboy 올드보이
Sunday, March 3, 4:30 pm, F|S
Sunday, March 24, 6:30 pm, AFI
Friday, April 5, 11:45 pm, Angelika
Saturday, April 6, 11:45 pm, Angelika
The second film in Park Chan-wook’s “Vengeance Trilogy” became his most popular and controversial after it won the Jury Prize at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival. In a riveting performance, Choi Min-sik plays Oh Dae-su, a man who is mysteriously imprisoned for 15 years and then just as mysteriously released. His search for his tormentor—and the secrets he uncovers—makes for a visually stunning, hyper-violent journey. The film includes notorious scenes, such as the eating of a live octopus and a spectacular fight in which Oh, armed with only a hammer, defeats a legion of thugs. A neo-noir with echoes of classical tragedy that come to a head in its shocking climax, Oldboy is, as Stephanie Zacharek writes in Salon.com, “Anguished, beautiful and desperately alive … a dazzling work of pop-culture artistry.” Intended for mature audiences. (Dir.: Park Chan-wook, Korea, 2003, 120 min., Korean with English subtitles)

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance 복수는 나의 것
Friday, March 15, 7 pm, F|S
Film scholar Kyu Hyun Kim calls Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance “one of the most frightening and disturbing films ever made in Korea.” The first film in Park Chan-wook’s “Vengeance Trilogy,” it tells the story of a hearing-impaired factory worker who turns to an illegal organ-trafficking ring to get a new kidney for his dying sister. Cheated gruesomely by the ring—they harvest his kidney without providing one in return—he kidnaps his former boss’ daughter and ransoms her for money to buy a legitimate transplant. When the kidnapping goes horribly wrong, both men set off on bloody-minded missions of revenge. The film’s gorier moments stunned early audiences, but the shocks it provides are more profound than those found in conventional horror movies. As The Onion AV Club film critic Tasha Robinson puts it, Park is “the kind of filmmaker who can meaningfully craft the gory details of an eye-gouging without ever forgetting the message that an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.” Intended for mature audiences. (Dir.: Park Chan-wook, Korea, 2002, 129 min., Korean with English subtitles)

Lady Vengeance 친절한 금자씨
Sunday, March 17, 2 pm, F|S
Sunday, March 31, 7:30 pm, AFI
Slightly less violent but no less visually ravishing than the first two films in Park Chan-wook’s “Vengeance Trilogy,” Lady Vengeance has a plot as intricate and precise as a Swiss watch. Imprisoned for 14 years for a crime she didn’t commit, Lee Geum-ja (Lee Yeong-ae) plots her revenge on Mr. Baek (a very creepy Choi Min-sik), the sociopathic schoolteacher who forced her to confess to the crime. As the true extent of Baek’s sadism is revealed, Geum-ja plans an increasingly baroque comeuppance. “Dense with pathos, poetry and humor, this is Park's finest work to date” (Andrew O’Hehir, Salon.com). Intended for mature audiences. (Dir.: Park Chan-wook, Korea, 2005, 112 min., Korean with English subtitles)

Thirst 박쥐
Sunday, March 17, 9 pm, AFI
Monday, March 18, 9 pm, AFI
This moody, atmospheric vampire movie stars Song Kang-ho (The Host, Secret Sunshine). A priest devoted to healing the sick, he volunteers as a test subject for an experimental drug that ends up giving him a taste for human blood. His holy nature keeps him from draining humans—he drinks from transfusion bags at the hospital—but he is unable to overcome the carnal urges his new sustenance brings. He embarks on a torrid affair with a friend’s wife, who soon develops a bloody thirst of her own. Park Chan-wook blends suspense, humor, and imagery that is as disturbing as it is beautiful in this story of a man of God struggling with desires both earthly and infernal. “A brilliant and gruesome work of cinematic invention as well as a passionate and painful human love story” (Andrew O’Hehir, Salon.com). Intended for mature audiences. (Dir.: Park Chan-wook, Korea, 2009, 133 min., Korean with English subtitles)

I’m a Cyborg, But That’s Okay 싸이보그지만 괜찮아
Tuesday, April 9, 7 pm, AFI
Wednesday, April 10, 9:15 pm, AFI
Variety’s Derek Elley calls I’m a Cyborg, But That’s Okay “witty, playful, romantic, tragic … a whole chocolate box of emotions.” Veering away from the stylized violence of such films as Oldboy and Lady Vengeance, director Park Chan-wook takes a lighter turn with this whimsical tale of love. It unfolds in a mental institution, between a boy who thinks he’s disappearing (played by Korean pop star Rain) and a girl who thinks she’s a robot (Lim Su-jeong of Happiness and All About My Wife). Park’s genius for color and visual design is evident throughout this poignant, playful, pastel-hued romance. (Dir.: Park Chan-wook, Korea, 2006, 105 min., Korean with English subtitles)

New Korean Cinema

A Werewolf Boy 늑대소년
Wednesday, March 6, 7:30 pm, Angelika
Thursday, March 7, 7:30 pm, Angelika
This film “defies genre conventions,” writes Maggie Lee in Variety. “It develops into a coming-of-age romance, then into a sci-fi thriller and supernatural fantasy, resulting in a strange but undeniably imaginative blend of fey sweetness, psychosexual nuance and dark allegory.” When a family discovers a feral teenager living in their barn, they take the boy in and, with the aid of a dog-training manual, begin to civilize him. Soon his superhuman strength and odd behavior indicate that but the boy is the product of a shady scientific experiment. When he runs afoul of the family’s nefarious landlord, his life—along with the strong bond he’s formed with the family’s daughter—is in peril. Director Jo Sung-hee’s debut feature End of Animal announced his narrative and visual inventiveness. This ravishingly beautiful, alternately tender and absurdist film was a box-office smash in Korea and confirms him as one of the country’s most talented young directors. (Dir.: Jo Sung-hee, Korea, 2012, 126 min., Korean with English subtitles, D-Cinema)

Nameless Gangster: Rules of the Time 범죄와의 전쟁
Friday, April 5, 7 pm, F|S

Become a member of the Silk Road Society and attend an invitation-only pre-film reception in the Freer Courtyard at 6 pm, in honor of the museums' Japanese Design Weekend and the National Cherry Blossom Festival.

Choi Min-sik’s master-class performance drives this gangland epic set in and around the port city of Busan in the 1980s and 1990s. He plays Ik-hyun, a corrupt customs inspector who stumbles upon a wayward drug shipment and leverages it into a business partnership with the city’s biggest crime boss. Soon their power struggle and a government crackdown on organized crime threaten to blow the lid off their increasingly grandiose plans. By turns obsequious and threatening, Choi’s Ik-hyun “emerges as a bravura study in survival instinct” (Maggie Lee, Variety), while director Yoon Jong-bin (Unforgiven; Beastie Boys) navigates the plot’s complex, overlapping chronology with a deft hand. The 1980s vibe is fully embraced with atrocious period haircuts and clothes and a soundtrack of classic K Pop. (Dir.: Yoon Jong-bin, 2012, 133 min., Korean with English subtitles, D-Cinema)

In Another Country 다른 나라에서
Sunday, March 10, 1 pm, F|S
The great French actress Isabelle Huppert stars as three different women visiting the Korean resort town of Mohan in this triptych of tales from director Hong Sang-soo (The Day He Arrives; Woman is the Future of Man). Huppert plays a filmmaker on a working vacation, a married businesswoman having an affair with a Korean director, and a divorcée recovering from her ex-husband’s infidelity. Each of her characters encounters a revolving cast of costars, including a charming, goofy, and extremely unhelpful lifeguard played by the hilarious Yoo Jun-sang. Hong, whose talent for experimentation and wit has earned him comparisons to Woody Allen and Michelangelo Antonioni, frames these stories as rough drafts of a screenplay written by yet another young woman visiting the resort. The result is a set of delightful, brilliantly constructed variations on a theme. (Dir.: Hong Sang-soo, France/Korea, 2012, 89 min., English and Korean with English subtitles, D-Cinema)

Taste of Money 돈의 맛
Wednesday, March 20, 7:30 pm, Angelika
Thursday, March 21, 7:30 pm, Angelika
Young-jak, private secretary to Madam Baek, center of a Korean conglomerate, deals with the immoral private issues of her wealthy family. As his desire for money and power grows, Young-jak does whatever he’s told without concern for the people around him. At the same time, he reports to Madam Baek that her husband is having an affair with a Filipino nanny. In despair, she seduces Young-jak—but he has begun to have feelings for her daughter. He now must choose between his morality and taking a shortcut to a successful life. (Dir.: Im Sang-soo, Korea, 2012, 115 min., Korean with English subtitles)

Pieta 피에타
Friday, March 22, 7 pm, F|S
Winner of the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival and Best Picture at Korea’s Blue Dragon Awards, Pieta represents Kim Ki-duk’s return to mainstream filmmaking. By turns viscerally violent and strangely moving, it tells the story of a vicious, almost feral loan shark who collects from his victims by crippling them and reaping the insurance benefits. A woman (Jo Min-soo, in a phenomenal performance) appears claiming to be his mother. After she shows him the only tenderness he’s ever known, he begins to mend his ways. But does she have an ulterior motive? Kim’s ever-controversial films often trade in emotional and physical cruelty—and Pieta is no exception—but its aim is less to shock than to consider the consequences of leading a violent life. As documented in his soul-searching diary film Arirang, Kim’s self-imposed four-year exile from feature filmmaking was, in part, a time for him to contemplate the consequences of his own art. Perhaps as a result, Pieta is his strongest film in years. Intended for mature audiences. (Dir.: Kim Ki-duk, Korea, 2012, 104 min., Korean with English subtitles, D-Cinema)

Jiseul 지슬
Sunday, March 24, 2 pm, F|S
Presented in conjunction with the Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital.
Jiseul won three major awards at the 2012 Busan International Film Festival and another at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival—a rarity for a Korean movie. This powerful film recreates little-known tragic events that occurred on Jeju Island, off of Korea’s southern coast. In 1948, there was an uprising on the island after soldiers fired on a protest gathering. The South Korean government, in collusion with the United States military, cracked down on the island’s residents, ordering them to report to the military or be executed as Communists. It is estimated that as many as 30,000 people died in the subsequent strife, which lasted until 1954. In elegant, stark black-and-white images reminiscent of the work of Bela Tarr, the Jeju-based independent filmmaker O Muel alternates between villagers that retreat to a remote cave to avoid capture and soldiers sent to apprehend or kill their fellow citizens. With its stately camera movements, vast wintry landscapes, and deep empathy for characters on both sides of the conflict, Jiseul has the force of a requiem. Intended for mature audiences. (Dir.: O Muel, Korea, 2012, 108 min., B&W, Korean with English subtitles, D-Cinema)

Young Gun in the Time 영건 인더 타임
Sunday, March 24, 9 pm, AFI
Monday, March 25, 9:40 pm, AFI
In this eccentric caper, a mysterious woman approaches a down-on-his-heels private eye with a disturbing assignment: track down the owner of a particular wristwatch and kill him. The detective refuses, but follows the woman out of curiosity. He finds himself embroiled in a byzantine search for a device that just might contain the secret to time travel. Director Oh Young-doo’s first feature, Invasion of Alien Bikini, was an ingenious sci-fi movie made on a shoestring budget. Similarly, Young Gun in the Time, made with only a modest budget, is a whimsical, bizarre adventure stuffed with oddball characters. Star Hong Young-geun, with his skinny frame, wispy moustache, Hawaiian shirts, and trilby hats, is the most endearingly unlikely leading man in Korean movies these days. (Dir.: Oh Young-doo, Korea, 2012, 95 min., Korean with English subtitles, HDCam)

Helpless 화차
Wednesday, March 27, 7:30 pm, Angelika
Thursday, March 28, 7:30 pm, Angelika
A man searches for his fiancée, who vanished without a trace just before their wedding ceremony—only to discover her shocking identity. Helpless is adapted from a mystery novel by Miyabe Miyuki, known as the queen of crime fiction in Japan. Lee Seon-gyoon (The Apprehenders) stars as the veterinary clinic manager searching for his fiancée, Kim Min- hee (Moby Dick) plays his fiancée with a suspicious history, and Jo Seong-ha (The Yellow Sea) plays Lee Seon-gyoon’s detective cousin, who helps out with the case. This is director Byeon Yeong-joo’s third feature after Ardor (2002) and Flying Boys (2004) and her first attempt at a thriller. (Dir.: Byun Young-joo, Korea, 2012, 117 min., Korean with English subtitles, D-Cinema)

A Company Man 회사원
Tuesday, April 2, 9:30 pm, AFI
Wednesday, April 3, 9:20 pm, AFI
Television and movie heartthrob So Ji-seop (Always; Rough Cut) plays a hit man who goes rogue in this action-packed drama from first-time director Im Sang-yun. In a sly commentary on Korea’s ruthless business culture, Ji Hyeong-do works for an assassination agency structured like a corporate workplace: Employees punch the clock, work in cubicles, and are presented with plaques commemorating career milestones. After developing a soft spot for colleagues he’s assigned to murder, Hyeong-do resolves to leave. But quitting the assassination business involves much more than submitting a letter of resignation. Bookended by a pair of spectacular action sequences that have to be seen to be believed, A Company Man is a surprisingly fresh addition to the genre. Intended for mature audiences. (Dir.: Im Sang-yun, Korea, 2012, 97 min., Korean with English subtitles, D-Cinema)

Selections from the Experimental Film and Video Festival in Seoul
Friday, April 12, 7 pm, F|S
In person: Park Donghyun, director, Experimental Film and Video Festival, Seoul
For nine years, the Experimental Film and Video Festival in Seoul has presented a program of unique and groundbreaking works. Its director introduces and discusses a selection culled from Korea’s foremost showcase for alternative film and video.

Weird Business 3D 비욘드 3D
Friday, April 19, 7 pm, F|S
The Freer unveils its brand-new 3D projection technology with this trio of amazing stories commissioned by the Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival. In the comedy The Suicidal Assassin, a man who can’t kill himself no matter how hard he tries teams up with a mysterious woman to turn the tables on a man who encourages people to commit suicide. Forget about broomsticks and potions: The titular character in The Witch stuns an interviewer with her twenty-first-century powers, which she employs to punish men who mistreat women. And in The First Love Keeper, a novelist collects bittersweet stories of first loves’ beginnings and endings, not knowing that his story will end up being one of them. (Dirs.: Veronica Chung, Cho Young-joon, and Lee Hun-kuk, Korea, 2012, 60 min., Korean with English subtitles, D-Cinema)

Sleepless Night 잠 못 드는 밤
Sunday, April 21, 1 pm, F|S
Winner of both the Grand Prize and the Audience Award at the Jeonju International Film Festival, Jang Kun-jae’s Sleepless Night is about a couple as they contemplate, dream, and sometimes argue about bringing a child into their settled life. Jang (Eighteen) spins this seemingly mundane premise into a tender, intimate portrait of a marriage that resonates long after the film is over. Its intimacy comes not only from Jang’s skillful use of unobtrusive HD video equipment to bring out natural performances but also from the bond between cast and crew, who lived together during the shoot and improvised ideas around Jang’s autobiographical plot. As Variety’s Maggie Lee writes, the film’s “unassuming brilliance lies in the lyricism of love itself, which it tenderly infuses into every precisely framed and edited shot.” Intended for mature audiences. (Dir.: Jang Kun-jae, Korea, 2012, 65 min., Korean with English subtitles, D-Cinema)

Juvenile Offender 범죄소년
Sunday, April 21, 2:30 pm, F|S
Seo Young-joo became both the first Korean and the youngest person ever to win Best Actor at the Tokyo International Film Festival—where Juvenile Offender also won the Special Jury Prize—for his performance as a troubled teen reunited with his mother, who gave him up for adoption. Good-intentioned but unable to resist the lure of his troublemaking friends, Seo’s Ji-gu is contacted out of the blue by his mother (the equally excellent Lee Jung-hyun) while serving time in a juvenile detention facility. Together they try to pick up the pieces of their broken lives, but when Ji-gu reveals that his girlfriend is pregnant his mother can’t help but wonder whether a vicious circle is starting again. Director Kang Yik-wan, who proved his talent for making intimate, tender films with his first feature, Sa-kwa, creates two indelibly memorable, deeply wounded characters in this “beautifully rendered dual character study that weaves the complexities of contemporary Korean life into its bigger picture” (Giovanna Fulvi, Toronto International Film Festival). (Dir.: Kang Yik-wan, Korea, 2012, 107 min., Korean with English subtitles, HDCAM)


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